In the 21st century, we need to think about the Internet as a utility, just like electricity, water, and natural gas. In the 58th District, though, far too many people are in danger of being left behind. Folks in urban areas outside our district are astonished when I tell them that when I worked at Walton Middle School in Albemarle County, some students' families barely had indoor plumbing. Broadband Internet was not even imaginable.
This is bad news for our communities. Entrepreneurs with ideas for new businesses need fast, reliable Internet access. So do high school students applying to college. And so do all kinds of people trying to pay their taxes, make travel plans, or keep in touch with family and friends.
Just outside the borders of our district, in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, gigabit-speed Internet access is available at relatively low cost. But just ten or fifteen miles away, in Scottsville, Troy, or Elkton, the best available option is satellite Internet — which is expensive, unreliable, and slow as all get-out.
There's no magic wand to wave and instantly provide Internet access to everyone in the 58th. Here in the mountains, that's partly just a matter of geography and physics. There's no such thing as a free lunch, either; utilities always cost something. But we can't afford to leave our neighbors behind. We need to use subsidies or tax credits to encourage broadband companies to invest in building the necessary infrastructure. And we need to empower local communities to find their own solutions whenever the private sector falls short.